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Stoners From Duterte's Philippines Share How They Get Away With It

Under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine government has waged a bloody war on drugs making it a highly dangerous place for drug users.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article neglected to acknowledge that the government's drug war is focused on the poor. We apologize for the oversight.

The first time I saw a weed pen was in Netflix’s Master of None circa 2017. Dev Shah, played by Aziz Ansari, took something that looked like a ballpen out of his breast pocket. He put one end to his mouth, and breathed out vapour that quickly dissipated on screen. Genius.


Nothing else comes close to the weed pen when it comes to discretion and convenience. Bong rips are open invitations to anyone familiar with the sound. One-hitters and joints emit smoke, which stick to your clothes. Gummies and weed edibles can’t easily be purchased in many parts of Asia, and making one yourself is tedious unless you love baking. Or so I’m told.

Two years after Master of None, the weed pen is all the rage for weed smokers who can afford a little over a hundred dollars to keep their smoking habits discreet.

Discreteness is especially important in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte is hell-bent on wiping out drugs – so much so that thousands have died in his brutal war on drugs. Here, weed is the second most sought-out drug after methamphetamine, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. The agency even went so far as to banning a hip-hop song in major airwaves for alluding to the use of marijuana in its lyrics.

The government's drug war has largely focused on the poor, which make up an overwhelming majority of the victims. Many others continue to smoke despite the risks, perhaps knowing they are better protected than lower-class Filipinos. We ask five weed smokers in the Philippines about their weed habits and how they hide it.

Jam*, 20


Jam's weed pen

VICE: So Jam, how much weed do you smoke a day?
Less than a gram for sure. One can last me 4 or 5 days. I usually only smoke at night once I'm done with all my work and use it as a way to relax and chill. To me it’s like having a drink at the end of the day.


And how long have you been smoking?
4 to 5 years.

So, what’s your way of smoking?
My favorite way is using a bong because for smoking a little at a time you go a long way. My other preferred smoking method is vaping cartridges with concentrate inside.

Is it easier to get away with the cartridge?
In public no one will notice the cart, the only other people who will notice it probably smoke too so I rarely am worried. The bong is harder to hide but I usually only stay home when using it.

Aren't you afraid you'll get caught?
You don’t have to worry if you’re responsible with it.

Kim*, 26

VICE: Hey Kim, what’s your weed smoking habit like?


I smoke 2 -3 joints a day. I roll my joints at night so I can just smoke them the next day. On a regular work day, I’ll light up 1 joint then smoke half of it while on the way to work. Then smoke the remaining half before having lunch so the meal is better. After work, I always smoke a joint while on the way home. Then another joint or pipe load before going to sleep.

How long have you been smoking weed?
5 or 6 years? Though I smoked regularly only when I started earning my own money, that was 2 or 3 years ago, I think.

So, how do you get away with it?
I just try to be low-key all the time. Only my closest friends know that I smoke. Why do you smoke so frequently? Weed has been a part of my creative process. And it makes me calm after a long day at work.


But aren't you afraid you'll get caught?
Who isn’t?

Bong*, 31

VICE: So Bong, how much weed do you smoke?
I smoke cannabis 3 to 6 times a day. Or more when it's a stressful time at work. What’s your smoking habit like? I grind it up, pack a bowl, sit down or chill by a wall or in my car. I take a deep breath before lighting up. After smoking I give myself 5 to 10 minutes to breathe and relax. Sometimes, I'll use a bong at home, a pipe or a "Chillam," a traditional Indian-origin straight pipe.

You smoke outside of your house?
How do you get away with it? Breath mints, sunglasses and a big smile. It's about being as inconspicuous as possible and situationally aware… And not being a dumbass. There's a local slang called "T.H." meaning Tamang Hinala (Right Assumption).

How long have you been smoking?
Since 2003 recreationally but medicinally in 2014. Damn that’s a long time. Aren't you afraid you'll get caught?
No, I believe in cannabis being a free and alternative medicine for many Filipinos. If I get caught, I won't change my belief. I'll fight for it until medical cannabis is free for all Filipinos.

Why do you smoke so frequently?
I struggle with ADD and PTSD. I was prescribed Xanax and Lexapro to control chemical imbalances in my body. I didn't like how the medicines made me feel numb and emotionless. I felt detached from the world and constantly depressed. Cannabis helped me control and understand my reactions, emotions and paranoia. Now I feel like a brighter, more attentive, appreciative, and compassionate member of my community.


Do you encourage everyone to follow your habits if or when weed gets legalised here?Yes. Cannabis has been in Filipino culture ever since we could remember. Our ancestors, whether Spanish, Filipino, Malay or Chinese, found cannabis to be an effective natural and alternative medicine. If we make cannabis legal in the Philippines it will create a boom in a variety of Filipino industries. Hemp has also been found to be a great material with industrial applications in insulation, textiles and other sectors.

Edd*, 22


VICE: So Edd, how long have you been smoking weed?
Probably 3 years by now. I keep it strict by only smoking after work. If I got locs (mid-grade weed), I could smoke 2 joints a day and I would be good for the night, but with kush I try to ration as much as possible. Maybe a toke or two each day.

Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught?
I am, but at the same time I’m pretty confident I could just throw or eat my stash on hand when I see a checkpoint or something. I usually get from medium to low level suppliers, I don’t really feel at ease when I meet or buy from serious dealers. You know, the ones with a dispensary worth of weed in their place.

What’s the closest you’ve been to getting caught?
I went to a college bar once and the bouncer found one a pipe and a small Ziploc bag with some shit bud in one of my pockets. He set me aside and taunted me three times before I realized that he wasn't serious about calling the cops on me. All he wanted was a bribe. So I gave him what I had on me: $14 in Philippine pesos.


Do you encourage everyone to follow your habits if or when weed gets legalised here?
Weed is good and all but you still have to treat it like alcohol. It alters your mind in some way. Moderation and rationing helps you save up and be at focus. Micro-dosing really helps.

Jason*, 21


VICE: So Jason, why do you smoke weed?
I've been smoking for 5 years now. I think I'm high-functional [when I smoke]. That is to say weed helps me be productive. I start my days stressed out thinking about all the work that has to be done. Smoking sativa strains helps me calm down and focus on doing things one by one. Heck, I'm writing these answers down now in the morning while high. In the night when I get home from work I smoke indica strains to knock me out. If I didn't, I'd stay up thinking about things that have to be done.

How much weed do you smoke a day?
A pipe load in the morning when I wake up. Three loads of kush when I get home from work. Ever since Rodrigo Duterte became president, kush became more and more accessible.

Why do you smoke so frequently?
Reality's fucked up. Look at everything that's happening. Couple that with an unhinged personal life with a lot at risk and a very slim chance of making it out to a good life and I think any person would resort to chronic pot smoking.

How do you get away with it?
Hiding your high is essentially just acting normal. I find that if you know how you are sober and if you're aware of that while you're high you'll know how to act in certain situations and you'll be fine.

Aren't you afraid you'll get caught?
Definitely, but also no. I'm afraid because there are such grave punishments for smoking it here in our country. But if the circumstances did happen and I did get caught, I won't back away from saying that I think weed is beneficial.

Do you encourage everyone to follow your habits if or when weed gets legalised here?
Yeah. I don't smoke a shit ton of weed. I think it's like alcohol if not better. Just do it in moderation. It takes the tension off but take that as a helping hand in your path to making reality better for you. Reality sucks but we're still in it. Don't just smoke weed to constantly blur out the real world.

*Names have been changed to protect the subjects' identities.